Janet Browne’s talk on the Darwinian revolution revealed the power that people have to shape revolutionary narratives. Darwin himself hinted at the revolution that his explanation of evolution would cause. Supported by his family, who began to cement his legacy even when he was still alive, Darwin’s fame only grew after he published On the Origin of Species. Atheists and scientific groups have subsequently appropriated Darwin’s image and the story surrounding his ‘discovery’ of evolution has undergone various revisions. If the story of Charles Darwin draws out over hundreds of years, what other revolutions that have happened or are happening are subject to the influence of contemporary historians, philosophers, and everyday people? Probably all of them. The ways that revolutions are represented in popular culture impact the social conception of what happened as much as, if not more than, what actually happened.
One revolution of sorts that took place recently is the rise of Bernie Sanders and his supporters. Sanders called for radical changes to the government’s economic system when he ran for president in the Democratic primaries. Although he lost, his ideas will continue to influence politics in years to come—if they are not forgotten. The primary impetus of change as a result of the movement that Bernie started will come from what people, politicians and others, remember about his run and what story they (we) decide to tell about it. If the depictions of Bernie are largely positive, and he is seen as a revolutionary figure who should have won, his ideas will likely carry through to the next election. If he is seen as a troublemaker who disrupted a functioning system in a negative way, his legend will fade much more quickly. The immediate representations of what happened a few months ago will have a great impact on how future generations remember the 2016 primaries.
Similarly, the history of the revolutions in the Middle East that Khalid Albaih discussed last week are still being written, and current additions to that saga are coming all the time, some from Mr. Albaih himself. The people who participated in/ are participating in revolutions have a great deal of influence over the ways their stories are told in the future. Newspaper accounts and social media feeds tell an up to the minute story of what is going on in these revolutions, but a misconception may be hard to correct because of the pace of information flow. Additionally, the plethora of perspectives that are readily available make the process of recording a revolution easier in some ways but harder in other ways.
Constructing a narrative surrounding a given revolution is not the job of one person; many people across time and space will tweak and add to the narrative. Janet Browne did an excellent job of explaining the changes that have occurred surrounding the public perceptions of Darwin’s revolutions, and we should keep the variability of historical account in mind as we construct histories of current revolutions. These representations will reverberate for years to come and so their accuracy and clarify is of grave importance and could in turn influence future events.